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How long does it take to fall in love?

In my seemingly never-ending search for knowledge regarding the doggie brain, I recently came across an article on the Ceasar Millan website, “Do You Have a Favorite Dog?”

In this article Leslie Garrett briefly explores the idea that most of us who have had the privilege to own a train of dogs in our lifetimes have come across a canine at some point that was “the one.” A great doggie romance. A dog that just “got” us.

Not unlike any relationship article, or, better yet, romance novel excerpt, Garrett and her interviewees describe looking into the eyes of that one perfect dog and feeling immediate love and understanding.

I didn’t feel that with Nala.

I saw her picture on the Animal Rescue League website and knew only that I needed to go see her. I did. On a whim (which is something I never do by the way) and when I saw her, my first thought was not “I’m in love.” And I’m sure hers was something more like, “Who the hell are you?”

My first thought about Nala was a question: “Will this work?”

After spending about 30 minutes with her in a “cuddle room,” I came up with a solid  “I think so.”  So I filled out the mile of paperwork and waited in the lobby with the three couples adopting cats (some were taking home more than one). Cats that were probably going to go to their new home, find a hiding spot, and be invisible for about three days until they finally come out and decide to be all that a cat can be: meow, eat, sit in windows, and maybe try to sleep in the heads of these happy couples. It sounded easy, taking home a fuzzy, already independent companion in a cardboard box with little round holes in the side. They even had a handle at the top of the box… even the travel home was going to be easy for them. Maybe not quiet, but easy logistic-wise. I was suddenly sorry, for the first time ever, that I am allergic to cats.

My drive home consisted of Nala exploring every inch of the car with what I would eventually come to know as a very persistent nose. She was everywhere at once and I had one thought, “What have I done.” It wasn’t a question. I had a pretty good idea regarding the answer.

But after about ten minutes, she suddenly sat her skinny butt in the passenger seat and looked out the window at the rain. I relaxed, a little. Once home, she saw a man across the street through the car window and growled. A watchdog. This was something I wanted. I smiled. So maybe it wasn’t the worst decision I’d ever made.

But the days wore on and each very early, very dark morning as I grudgingly put on my tennis shoes and fitted her with her harness, I felt regret. I did not necessarily regret Nala. She was already showing herself to be a “good dog.” And the way she holds out her front paw to put on her harness is ridiculously cute. She was learning fast and was, as so many people still describe her, sweet. But I was regretting getting a dog.

It sounds terrible and I was totally convinced I was the only person in the history of humans and dogs to ever feel this way. I was supposed to be starry-eyed.

I remember getting Miko, bringing her home, and thinking she was the greatest dog ever born. Why didn’t I feel that way with this dog? Was Miko “the one”? Maybe she just “got me.”

Possible.

But also possible: It’s not the about the dog getting me. It’s about me getting the dog. Sure, Miko and I were in sink very early on. But Nala knows what I want from her, she gets me, she is just a much more passionate furrball. The world is her playground. Crows must be chased, grasshoppers must be eaten, and her head must be hung out the car window.

I try to remind myself what a beautiful thing this is, a wild love of life, each time she climbs out of a car window and runs through a busy parking lot, greeting everyone she meets, or when she eats an entire pan of biscuits off the kitchen counter. She’s being a teenager and loving every minute of it.

But this mindset isn’t what has kept me from listing this bundle of love and terror on craigslist as a “re-home.” It is, actually, love that keeps us in this rawhide bone littered apartment.

Nala loves me.

Even more, she wants desperately for me to love her back.  And one day I will. The day will come when I think she is queen of the canine world. But for now I pet her and kiss her, walk her and play fetch with her. And I do it all because when I look at her masked face, her round brown eyes, I see that I have taken on the responsibility of another creature’s love and trust. To throw something like that aside would make me no better than the leader of a dog fighting ring…     or Hitler.

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